December 14, 2010

IN MEMORIAM: THE 9/11 FIRST RESPONDERS




Most people ran away on that day. Most people were afraid. But not you. You ran into the ash, the dust, the clouds of billowing smoke that filled your lungs, that made you vomit thick, syrupy black goo, that made you eyes water and your nose full of the remains of dead buildings and dead people.

Most of you would later, in interviews and in those quiet moments with friends and family, say that "anybody would have done what I did." Most of you would tell those who will always feel a bit ashamed, a bit proud and more than a bit emabrrassed when standing in your presence that you "didn't think."

No, you didn't. You didn't rationalise. You didn't weigh the options, didn't weigh the risks. You were there. You put on your heavy jackets, and you carried those axes on your shoulders, fighting your way up those darkened, dusty stairwells, through the crowds of people attemtpting to escape, making your way up there, trying to save as many as you could.

You came to the wreckage, you sifted through the rubble until your hands bled, listening to the quiet of death, to that single desperate sign of life here and there, without masks, without tools, without anything but your heart, and as the hours dragged on, as you felt that there would never be another day when you could cry, when your hearts became heavy and your arms became numb, you continued to work, to do the best you could, without having been asked, without having been forced, without anything other than what is the most basic humanity that should be in all of us.

Many have claimed your mantle. Many have worn your jackets, in those years since, while you were silent, while you were going on about your jobs as 9/11 started to kill you, too. Slowly but surely. You were the best, the greatest on that day, and you are forgotten.

You were the heroes that we hope we could be. In your attempts to save life, to stop the chaos, to help those who were in need and salvage those who were beyond your reach.

And you are forgotten.

Politicians made you their poster boys and girls, they named you, the carried you in front of them, they started a war in your name and in the name of those who you saved and those that you couldn't.

And you are forgotten. By your country. By your leaders. By the viewers who have moved on, to the enxt show, the next emotional arrangement of flickering images.

We will never forget, these leaders said. On that day and those that followed.

But they lied.

They forgot.

And so it is up to us, out here in the digital cloud, voices without bodies, memories without a name, to remember. And to tell you.

That we have not forgotten.

And that we never will.